The Top 20 Car & Actor Pairings from TV and Movies
It goes without saying that movies and TV shows can’t happen without the involvement of people, particularly actors and actresses. After all, without the on-camera talent, production crews would just be shooting landscapes.
But many times, thespians are matched up with props to help tell the story and yes, props can include automobiles. Yet in some magnificent, unforgettable instances, cars manage to transcend their status as mere props and, together with the human star or stars that use them, become icons. Here are 20 such actor and machine dream teams.
Steve McQueen, 1968 Ford Mustang
While it’s often criticized for (mostly) being a snoozer, the 1968 cop drama/thriller Bullitt did give the world what is arguably the first modern cinematic car chase. The protagonist in that car chase is the film’s protagonist, Lt. Frank Bullitt, played by the King of Cool his ownself, Steve McQueen.
The images of McQueen leaping that Dark Highland Green ’68 Ford Mustang fastback over the hilly streets of San Francisco in pursuit of the assassins in their black ’68 Dodge Charger are etched into movie history. But that jade ‘Stang is as revered (if not more revered) by car buffs (of which McQueen was most certainly one) than film buffs, so much so that Ford has done not one but two generations of special edition Bullitt Mustangs this century.
Burt Reynolds, 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am
Iconic though the Bullitt Mustang may be, there wasn’t a rush on Dark Highland Green Mustang Sportsroofs back in the day, nor was American Racing inundated with orders for Ford bolt pattern TorqThrust wheels (at least, not because of Bullitt fans). About a decade later, however, there was a pony car that was a star in showrooms soon after it was a star on the silver screen.
Pontiac’s Trans-Am was available in black with gold striping and graphics before 1977, but one such car’s appearance alongside Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit catapulted the car (and that particular color combo) to super stardom on the sales charts. Numerous other cars went on to copy the gold-on-black idea (which had been inspired by the John Player Special cigarette colors worn by Lotus Formula 1 cars since 1972), including Nissan (still known here as Datsun at the time) with the 10th anniversary edition of the Z Car, which can be seen in this dy-no-mite TV advert.
Sean Connery, 1964 Aston Martin DB5
When it comes to on-screen portrayals of James Bond, many believe the original is still the best. But Sean Connery wouldn’t have been even a quarter as true to Ian Flemming’s novels if he didn’t have a bitchin’ British car in which to save the world. Thank goodness, then, that EON Productions cast the Aston Martin DB5 as Bond’s ride in the third 007 movie, Goldfinger. It set the precedent for Bond movie cars being loaded to the gills with cool spy tech while still looking basically stock, which was by no means a bad thing in the case of the achingly pretty DB5.
Barry Newman, 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T
As the 1970s began, the optimism and innocence that the 1960s began with was fading farther into the rearview mirror as the ennui and cynicism brought on by assassinations, the Vietnam War and an overarching loss of aforementioned innocence crept over our civilization. Few films encapsulate this better than the original Vanishing Point, which starred Barry Newman as the hero/antihero Kowalski. Watching him blast that white Challenger through the Desert Southwest toward their rendezvous with destiny was a metaphor for the way many Baby Boomers felt as they yearned to flee the creeping tide of madness that was lapping up on the shores of their world.
Mr. T, GMC Vandura
For proof that even the most pedestrian vehicles can be elevated to Hollywood badass status, look no further than the GMC Vandura cargo van that was the transport of choice for the A-Team. Wearing distinctive black and metallic gray (yes, the top part is gray) paint separated with a red stripe, this particular van became a pop culture icon, though maybe not quite to the same extent as its on-screen owner, fool-pitier extraordinaire Mr. T.
David Hasselhoff, 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am
Long before he played a lifeguard, became a German music chart topper or a shirtless cheeseburger eater, David Hasselhoff was best known as Michael Knight, a crusader for justice who was partnered with a super high tech talking, fully autonomous black Trans-Am named KITT in the TV series Knight Rider. Yes, we are aware there was a remake starring a Shelby GT500 as KITT (not to mention Deanna Russo…rowr…), but it’s best to heed the advice of the early 21st century zeitgeist: Don’t hassle the Hoff, or his Pontiac.
Dean Jones, Volkswagen Beetle
Speaking of vehicles with minds of their own, few have been more beloved by young and old than Herbie, the effervescent Volkswagen Beetle with a ‘tude. The actor most closely associated with Herbie is Dean Jones, who appeared alongside the boisterous Bug in three movies and the duo’s very short-lived CBS sitcom, Herbie, The Love Bug. The less that’s said about the most recent Herbie property (which starred Lindsay Lohan before she became a Casey Jones reenactor), the better.
James Garner, Pontiac Firebird Esprit
What is it with outside-the-law heroes and Pontiac F-Bodies? Whatever the case, James Garner (as private investigator Jim Rockford) got around the Los Angeles area in a gold Firebird Esprit in The Rockford Files TV series. And although the Esprit was intended as the luxury model of the Firebird family, Garner (who did much of his own stunt driving) rode it hard and put it away wet, particularly when performing the J-turns he performed with such frequency that many people now know the maneuver as “The Rockford.”
Michael Caine, Austin Mini Cooper S
When you’re making a list of ideal vehicles for stealing tons of gold bullion, an original Mini probably isn’t one of the vehicles that will make the cut. But that’s exactly the vehicle that was cast as the getaway cars (three of ‘em) in the original The Italian Job. But the trio of Minis buzzing around the streets of Turin probably wouldn’t have been quite as entertaining had they and their drivers been coordinated by the great Michael Caine’s Charlie Croker, the charming ex con who is tabbed to pull off the heist by imprisoned British crime boss Mr. Bridger. Michael Caine and Mini: Two thoroughly British icons coming together to make a thoroughly British movie (which featured a thoroughly British – and thoroughly catchy – song at the end).
Tom Wopat and John Schneider, 1969 Dodge Charger
While we don’t normally condone destroying certain types of cars by the scores (particularly second generation Dodge Chargers), we have a hard time disliking the original The Dukes of Hazzard TV series. Week in and week out, the affable Bo and Luke Duke (played by John Schneider and Tom Wopat, respectively) rocketed around Hazzard County in the pumpkin orange General Lee, often thwarting the schemes of corrupt county commissioner (Is there any other kind? Hiyoooo!) J.D. “Boss” Hogg and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane. But we have to wonder: If you were waging war against The Man, wouldn’t you want to drive something…well…stealthier?
Adam West, Batmobile
Most folks our age know Adam West as, er, Adam West, the wacky mayor of the Quahog, Rhode Island, the setting of Family Guy. He first rose to prominence, however, as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the campy 1960s live-action Batman TV series.
Not surprisingly, the Batmobile for the show was at least as cheeky as the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder it transported. Famed car customizer George Barris took the Lincoln Futura, a concept car from 1955 which Ford no longer wanted and, with help from fellow customizing legends Dean Jeffries and Bill Cushenberry, massaged it into the Batmobile.
Ed O’Neill, Plymouth Duster
Looking out at the world from the folding lawnchair set up in our driveway, we’re disgusted that kids these days are infatuated with Ed O’Neill and his turn as the doting-yet-exasperated father/grandfather in Modern Family while knowing nothing about the role that catapulted him to stardom: Al Bundy. (Okay, we’d also like them to stay off the lawn.) Married…with Children was a TV trailblazer, trading the playful and innocent themes and storylines used by sitcoms up to that point for raunchy, dark humor.
Bundy was, for all intents a purposes, a loser, so what did the producers have him drive? A brown Dodge, which in reality was a Plymouth Duster from roughly 1972. Personally, we wouldn’t have a problem with a brown Duster (provided it was sufficiently hot-rodded; did somebody say “turbocharged Slant Six?”), but for the average TV viewer, it told you almost all you needed to know about Al Bundy.
Roger Moore, 1976 Lotus Esprit
Though he had the unenviable task of succeeding his friend Sean Connery as 007, Roger Moore did have the honor of driving one of the coolest James Bond rides of all time in The Spy Who Loved Me. Sure, it looked like a white Lotus Esprit S1, but Q had modified it to be able to turn into a submarine. This feature was famously tested off the coast of Sardinia while fleeing Jaws and some other baddies. We’ll leave the formulation of chassis corrosion and Lucas electrics quips up to the reader.
Chevy Chase, Ford Country Squire
Almost three decades before anyone heard of Pierce Hawthorne or the expression “Streets ahead,” Chevy Chase was the stumblebum Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation. The vehicle that would be squiring the Griswolds on their cross-country odyssey to Walley World was based on a Ford LTD Country Squire Station Wagon. We say “based on” because it was beat so hard with an ugly stick that it became a very believable Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
Michael J. Fox, DeLorean DMC-12
We’ve all wanted to travel through time, right? Would you still be game even if it meant driving a DeLorean DMC-12? Michael J. Fox, as Marty McFly, didn’t have much choice as he became an unwitting time traveler in the Back to the Future movie trilogy. The films helped transform the DeLorean from the butt of jokes to a four-wheeled cult hero. But let it be said that the stock 130hp V6 ensures that you will arrive at your destination well into the future.
Tom Selleck, Ferrari 308 GTS
Picture this: You’re a private investigator living in the guest house of a beachfront Hawaiian estate owned by a successful novelist. Your usual ground transportation is the aforementioned author’s Ferrari. Sound like fun? That was reality for Thomas Magnum (portrayed by veteran actor and ambassador for the mustachioed community Tom Selleck) for eight seasons on Magnum, P.I. While there are probably a few modern minivans that can outrun it, the 308 GTS (which was replaced by a fuel-injected 308 GTSi and 32-valve 308 GTSi QV in subsequent seasons) is still a handsome machine that is also suave and effective at its job, just like its driver.
Peter Falk, 1959 Peugeot 403 Convertible
At the other end of the TV sleuth spectrum, we find Lieutenant Columbo, the quirky, easily distracted (but always successful) LAPD detective played by Peter Falk. Naturally, you’d expect an oddball detective to drive an oddball car, even while on the job, and Columbo didn’t disappoint. He rocked a very rare (and very tired-looking) ’59 Peugeot 403 convertible, a vehicle that, like him, may not have looked very impressive, but got the job done. Funny how that worked out…
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, 1974 Dodge Monaco
Ex-cop cars hold a tremendous amount of appeal for hot rodders. They’re insanely cheap to buy, usually V8-powered and rear-wheel-drive, and are chock full of heavy duty…strike that, gonzo duty components for the brakes, suspension, cooling system, drivetrain and other facets of the car’s anatomy.
That came in handy for Jake and Elwood Blues (alias the late John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, respectively) as they battled the Chicago PD, Illinois Nazis and a country-western band to reunite with their bandmates to stage a concert to raise enough money to keep the orphanage in which they grew up open. The film was quite successful, but it did not inspire many people to preserve Dodge’s last truly full-size cars for posterity. Le sigh…
Mike Myers, Jaguar E-Type
As spy spoofs go, perhaps none are more over-the-top or better known than the Austin Powers trilogy (A fourth movie is apparently in the works.). Mike Myers’ portrayal of both the title protagonist and his antagonist, Dr. Evil (plus Goldmember and Fat Bastard) proved his comedic versatility, but he would need a cool car to prove that Austin Powers to be a legit super spy.
Enter the Shaguar, a Jaguar E-Type roadster painted in the colors of the British flag. Inconspicuous? Hardly. Campy enough to keep up with the international man of mystery? Yeah, baby!
Paul Walker, Toyota Supra
On the off chance you’ve been living beneath a boulder for the past few weeks, the fifth Fast and Furious movie has accelerated into theaters. It’s hard to believe that the first film in the franchise debuted a decade ago, but time flies and all that. In those days, the import tuning scene was still, in the words of the vice president, a big f***in’ deal; as a result, most of the vehicles in the movie were not American in origin. The hottest of these was the fourth-gen Toyota Supra Turbo driven by Paul Walker’s undercover cop Brian O’Connor. This orange beastie would supposedly cover the quarter-mile in 10 seconds; even if it doesn’t it still captures the spirit of the tuner movement. Having said that, we’d much rather have an unmolested stock example. They’re already worth big bucks, and are likely to be our generation’s Hemi-powered Chrysler E-bodies.
Think we’ve made any glaring omissions? We’re pretty sure we have, given we limited the list to just 20. Go to bat for your favorites in the comments section.